Three years ago, I liked Tale of the Nine Tailed enough. I said back then that it was “a fun series that [was] an easy watch,” but had “a lot of potential left on the table.” I even said that while a fine series, it “may fade a little bit away soon after that easy watch.
So it was a little surprising to hear that there would be a season two of the series this year. But what’s even more surprising is that Tale of the Nine Tailed 1938 (구미호뎐1938) may actually be better than the first season. By a lot!
Tale of the Nine Tailed 1938 sees gumiho and former mountain god Lee Yeon (Lee Dong Wook) traveling back in time to Japanese-occupied Joseon in search for an important stone that he must return to the present day. Back in 1938, he meets Ryu Hong Joo (Kim So Yeon) and Cheon Moo Young (Ryu Kyung Soo), two individuals from his past. But he also meets his brother Lee Rang (Kim Bum) of this period, an emotional reunion considering what’s happened between them in the present day.
While Lee Yeon must complete his mission, he soon gets wrapped up in the turmoil of 1938. Whether it’s related to the Japanese occupation or the sinister beings that lurk in the shadows; Lee Yeon must tackle them head on along with some new and also familiar friends. All in an effort to hopefully have him return home to 2023.
The first season may have been more focused on the love story between gumiho Lee Yeon and human mortal Ji Ah (Jo Bo Ah). And while there wasn’t anything lacking from the two actors’ chemistry, their story was certainly the least interesting of the many different moving parts in that first season.
In addition to the strong, charming cast, the strongest parts definitely included the modern twists on Korean folk legends, solid action and overall fun humor. But the definite highlight was the dynamic between the brothers Lee Yeon and Lee Rang. That dynamic is what is at the very center of season two.
The series takes all those strongest aspects of the first season and fuses them with a few brand-new stories that are able to stand tall on their own, separate from whatever happened in season one.
That allows anyone to be able to come into season two with or without knowledge or familiarity with season one. It is an accessible 12 episodes, regardless of whether or not you watched the first season.
One of this season’s greatest feats is being able to replicate the dynamic between Lee Yeon and Lee Rang. Even though the two were able to resolve many of conflict and distance between them in the first season, the series cleverly and creatively touches upon many of the same moments and themes here. For new viewers, those scenes are emotional, relatable and affecting.
For viewers who have watched the first season, the scenes are amusingly nostalgic and fun. But also a reminder of how much Lee Dong Wook and Kim Bum’s chemistry and performances truly carried the series back then.
That chemistry, charisma and magnetic performance from both of them is once again present here. And that bromance, brotherly connection, whatever you want to call it; that relatable and down to earth human story between Lee Yeon and Lee Rang, working out their differences and painful past, is done so well and is truly a highlight in the series. This season gives them more opportunity to shine and they absolutely take advantage of that chance.
The creative approaches to Korean folklore are also present. And the setting of 1938 allows for an infusion of Japanese folklore as well. Not to mention the series using the 1938 setting to also offer a creative take on the Japanese occupation with Korean independence fighters fighting alongside those taking on the evil beings that roam the country.
The biggest new story season two takes on though is the relationship between Lee Yeon, Ryu Hong Joo and Cheon Moo Young. The simple premise, yet complicated unfurling of their story fits perfectly into the world of the series. And also works well alongside Yeon and Rang’s story as well.
The nostalgia of childhood friendship and bonds is told with such care and attention that it is not hard to connect with the story. And the performances and chemistry of Lee Dong Wook, Kim So Yeon and Ryu Kyung Soo (as well as the young actors portraying the younger versions of the characters) really go a long way to make their intricate and colorful story truly come alive. It is a wild ride throughout the twelve episodes for them. But it all leads to some wonderfully satisfying moments.
What Tale of the Nine Tailed 1938 also does much better than season one is that it takes itself less seriously. Though it’s not as if the first season was some heavy drama. Still, season two plays more like a fun adventure and leans into that lighter approach much more. Even more interesting is this approach actually allows for this season to feel much more focused in its storytelling.
The series now knows what it wants to be, what kinds of stories to tell and how to effectively execute those stories in a way that results in satisfying and fulfilling conclusions.
Ultimately, Tale of the Nine Tailed 1938 delivers a fun 12 episode ride. High-flying action, affecting stories and some great performances from its talented cast; Tale of the Nine Tailed 1938 is one of those rare times where a second season not only matches, but surpasses its first. And it is such a welcome and enjoyable surprise. I know this will be one of my favorites of the year.